HOW DO WE MANAGE STRESS?
Paula Randant, MSW
There are many stressors in life. We need some stress. It motivates us to eat, to work, to be active. There are physical stressors such as hunger, cold or heat or illness. There are emotional stressors such as death, loss, relationships, birth, marriage, buying a house, moving, conflict and criticism to name a few. There are also cognitive stressors. Cognitive stressors may come from work, school or home. They present a challenge to solve a problem, develop a plan, understand a process or create something new.
Stress is not a bad thing until it tips the scale of balance in our lives. When stressors are in balance in our lives we function at our most productive. When the balance scales tip a little in one direction we will strive to rebalance. Our bodies and neuro-chemical systems activate to return to balance. Long term continuous stress or multiple stressors can begin to move our bodies and emotional and cognitive functioning out of balance and impede our optimum functioning. The longer the stressor continues to overload ones system the more difficult to return to balance without assistance.
Our bodies are wonderfully designed. Our bodies work automatically to return to stasis. As stressors pile on or continue in an unrelenting fashion our systems can begin to break down. We see the evidence of the break down with illness, depression, inability to manage daily life and loss of joy in living. So what can one do to manage stress in our lives and maintain the balance necessary for optimum functioning. Let us take the three realms of functioning I’ve mentioned physical, emotional and cognitive stressors. All three areas benefit from physical exercise, appropriate levels of sleep and good nutrition.
Physical stressors are probably the easiest to remedy and return to balance. Hunger, temperature/climate, and illness can be remedied directly. Food, clothing, shelter and medical treatment can relieve and rebalance these stressors.
Emotional stressors may be the most difficult to remedy. Stages of grief differ in length and duration for each individual. Life events such as birth, marriage and buying a house may be positive but none the less may produce stress reactions. Conflict and criticism may result in interpsychic injury that resists remedy. Physical exercise, good nutrition and sleep are a start. Talking to a trusted family member or friend can assist in working through emotional reactions. Sharing feelings, discussing events and problem solving all may assist the return to balance. If the individual begins to deteriorate and has home life and work impacted it is probably time to seek professional help. Counseling with a trained professional can help to assist in the return to balance. If symptoms become more serious with daily living skills deteriorating or self destructive thoughts or actions occur it is time to combine counseling with the assistance of a Physician to consider medical interventions such as medication or hospitalization.
Cognitive stressors also respond to exercise, sleep and good nutrition. Writers block is an example of cognitive distress. Some suggestions for restarting our creativity are quiet time, thinking time, change of activity or routine, social interaction, play and change of scenery. Sharing ideas and feelings with family and friends may also be helpful.
Stress and it’s roots can often be complicated. Finding ways to manage stress is important.